Nasa / Space

Geek Trivia: Holiest of holes

What is the largest impact crater in our solar system?

While there is still considerable debate about what, exactly, killed off the dinosaurs, one of the most compelling theories is that Mexico did it. Or, rather, that 65 million years ago, a 10-kilometer-wide meteor slammed into the landmass that would later become part of contemporary Mexico -- thereby throwing a huge chunk of that same proto-Mexican landmass into the atmosphere, wreaking untold environmental havoc across the entire planet and killing off the infamous thunder lizards in the process.

The primary geographic feature that this meteor left behind is the Chicxulub Crater. It's about 180 kilometers in diameter, it makes up much of the northern edge of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and it stretches well into the Atlantic Ocean. It's also only the third-largest confirmed impact crater on the planet.

Second place goes to Canada, which is home to Ontario's Sudbury Basin. This too is the result of a 10-kilometer-wide meteor impact, though Canada's event took place much earlier -- 1.8 billion years ago.

This space rock, however, blasted out a crater 250 kilometers wide. But the intervening millennia have helped soften the edges of this formation, leaving the modern Sudbury Basin obviously discernible at only about 62 kilometers wide. The Canadian crater is also a bit more productive than Chicxulub, as the impact deposited significant amounts of precious metals in the local geology, making Sudbury one of the world's leading mining communities.

Still, even the metal-rich Sudbury Basin must take a back seat to the world's largest astrobleme (the technical term for a meteor impact crater): South Africa's 300-kilometer-wide Vredefort Crater. Again, a 10-kilometer-wide meteor slammed into mother Earth, in this case about 2 billion years ago, with a force sufficient to vaporize 70 cubic kilometers of rock.

The Vredefort collision was so powerful that the rock beneath the impact point actually rebounded, creating a raised dome at the center of the crater and generating a ripple of ringed crater-rims that radiate out from the center. Such features rarely survive in Earth's tectonically active geosphere; however, the Vredefort crater was significant enough that traces of its multi-ring crater are still detectable. There is no larger confirmed impact crater on the planet.

Still, as grand as Vredefort Crater is, it's a mere piker compared to the biggest, widest impact crater found in our local solar system -- one more than eight times as wide as Vredefort's most generous estimated diameter.

WHERE IS THE LARGEST IMPACT CRATER IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM?

Get the answer.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

48 comments
kaboodle34
kaboodle34

Informative article. Imagine my disappointment when I looked up the information on Saturn's moon Mimas(think George Lucas, think DeathStar), and found it to be a mere 250 km wide. But, mark my words, when the Uranus rover beams back images of the 25,001 km-wide (minimum) impact crater that must have knocked its block (well, its one theory anyway), you will stand corrected...until that day....

MWRMWR
MWRMWR

I have a geological question that has been nagging me for a long time to which you have a tangential reference: What causes congregations of similar atoms (and maybe molecules) in what one might naively expect to be a random coming together of a variety of elements. e.g. a vein of silver, gold or alumin(i)um or a largely iron asteroid ?

jbotma
jbotma

Very interesting... but how do they determine when the collision happened? As far as I know there is no instrument that can accurately measure the age of anything. I think you should specify that it is only speculation.

rapell
rapell

where the hell do you get your trivia ideas? Am hooked!!

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

the universe is only 6,000 - 12,000 years old !! One of the Christian Right posted it just recently, so it must be true. How very tricky of god to put some dents into the place when he made it. How terribly authentic. Like repro-antique furniture. And all in the dark, too.

tundraroamer
tundraroamer

Enough with the metric system! Speak English. Or at least put the metric system equivalent next to the English measurements in your articles.

neilb
neilb

"10-kilometer-wide meteor". I don't think so. If it impacts the Earth, it's a meteorite. Meteors burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. In space, they're meteoroids until proven otherwise. If something is going to leave 300 Km wide craters, wipe out entire genera and change the dominant life-form on the planet then I do think that you have to name it correctly. Neil :D

RealGem
RealGem

Sorry, Jay, but the Yucatan peninsula doesn't extend into the Atlantic. It does stick out into the Caribbean, though. It actually divides the Gulf of Mexico, which is to the North, from the Caribbean Sea in the East. The Atlantic Ocean lies beyond the Caribbean.

rharvey
rharvey

"it makes up much of the northern edge of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and it stretches well into the Atlantic Ocean." Don't you mean the Gulf of Mexico? I'm pretty sure the body of water north of the Yucatan Peninsula is considered within the Gulf of Mexico.

djt34175
djt34175

I have just come back from visiting one of the best preserved meteorite craters on Earth, after the Arizona Crater. The Wolfe Creek Crater in the Tanami Desert, off the Tanami Road in Western Australia. Only 850m accross which I decended with my two miniature dacshunds in tow. Where is the crater bmcmanus is talking about in Western Australia?

Snak
Snak

I rather think that had the meteor hit the moon head on it would have destroyed it. Has the impact been dated? I would expect that a glancing blow would a) change its orbit, and b) create a larger crater than an impact (as it would smear, rather than puncture). It is therefore possible that the meteor responsible (!) for the demise of the dinosaurs may well have been the same one, re-directed to Mexico by the lunar glance. The article raises a question too - how come all three of the major impacts are from identically sized rocks? Is there something magic/fundamental about 10 Km planetettes?

dogknees
dogknees

Why does everyone think there has to be just one thing that did the job? Like most things it was probably a combination of several things that finally wiped them out. The evidence seems to be that vulcanism, one or more meteorites and increasing competition from mammals finally did the job. Climate change engendered by continental drift probably also played a part. It's also worth remembering that the dinosaurs didn't die out overnight, even in geological terms. It was a long decline with various species disappearing gradually. We should also keep in mind that they didn't ALL die off. The ones that evolved into birds are still here today, we just don't call them dinosaurs any more. Few things in life, and particularly in biology, have one single cause.

pdlawande
pdlawande

when was sqlloader invented?

deepsand
deepsand

Absence of proof does not consitute proof of absence. That you may not know of something doesn't mean that it doesn't exist; your speculation may be another's facts.

neilb
neilb

All he's doing - this week and past weeks - is posting some interesting trivia and inviting us all to comment and we (and you) are doing just that. Sit back, enjoy it and don't get so wound up... Neil :D Just FYI, they get the age of these collisions from studying the weathering of the crater, the age of sediments inside the crater and the position of tektites and other ejecta in rocks away from the crater. When a meteorite hits the Earth's atmosphere, it does it so fast that there is a vacuum formed behind it which gets filled up with vaporised meteorite at the time of impact. This gets spread all over the surrounding area - miles, hundreds of miles, whatever. The longer ago it happened, the greater the level of inaccuracy.

Tig2
Tig2

As a "member" of the Christian Quietists, I must insist that the Earth itself is millions of years old. How do we know that God didn't make a killing in the real estate market before He got down to some serious Godding? Hmm??? And besides, as everyone knows, the omnipotence of God gives Him a sort of glow. He is NEVER in the dark! You have to consider these things!

Tig2
Tig2

Neil is in the UK where he insists that HE DOES speak English (of the proper sort!) and we are merely Colonials, and often not very bright at that. After my commute today, I begin to agree with him.

neilb
neilb

Why do you have issues with metric measurements? The whole scientific world - including YOUR scientists - uses metric. Last time I checked, Astronomy was a science to all but Christian Fundamentalists. Anyway, given that your Imperial tons and pints are small than our Imperial measurements and it was, after all, OUR Empire, BACK OFF. :D

javalexlan
javalexlan

You're right, Officially the Yucatan state's shore is within the Gulf of Mexico and the Chicxulub crater is located in the middle of this state's coastline in the "western" side of the peninsula.

zuben347
zuben347

Part of the reason is that particular impact crater and a nearly worldwide layer of iridium are about 65 million years old. Right around the time where 70+ percent of life disappears from the fossil record. Iridium is a rare metal on Earth, and thus highly suspect to have arrived from an extraterrestrial source, such as a massive and metal-rich meteorite. Ironically, they are far less common than metal-poor stony chondrites, but much easier to find for the very reason of their conspicuous presence on most of terra firma. Having said all that, I agree with you that several pressures had to have cumulatively led to such a great dying. The impact, however, was likely the catalyst that triggered the violent volcanism, the tectonic tensions, the dreadful darkening--all culminating into the catastrophic climate change that crashed the photosynthetic party at the base of the food chain.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

'Cos how else did you get that question on that topic, without chemical assistance?

jbotma
jbotma

Well, he is posting in a public forum and if he is out by billions of years, he is creating the wrong impression. You say they measure the age of sediments? I just said there is no method to determine the age of anything. If there were, I would like to know about it.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

for earth impacts that they test the levels of solar radiation to help determine age. Of course this would mean that they need to get a piece of it for testing. So what happened to the 'Mars Killer' that I used to read about. It was an impact 1/4 the size of a planet???

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

She got down to some serious Godding? Les.

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilkes_Land_crater Recent gravimetric and radar images suggest there might be a 500km-wide crater in Antarctica, but right now the evidence is merely circumstantial (by geological standards). If and when we get enough data to confirm it, the WLC will bump every other impact crater on Earth down a spot. But for space, I'd have mentioned WLC in the article. Thanks for giving me reason to do so here.

tundraroamer
tundraroamer

I've seen their commute (on TV of course) and they have nothing to brag about. Jam-packed, wrong side of the road drivers intermingled with bikes and buses going every which way. We were lucky the "colonists" of long ago ever found their way off the island to America! Just teasing the British so don't anybody get their panties up in a bunch. Besides, they make wonderful butlers. I do enjoy watching old British TV shows from the 70's & 80's. I have to watch them several times in order to understand their "proper" English only to find out its some sort of slang and not usually complementary either.

tundraroamer
tundraroamer

OUR scientists used our measurement system to get to the moon to take the photos referenced in the article let alone land there. Where was the metric world? Watching on TV. Granted, in scientific research, metric makes more sense but in every day living, the "quarter pounder" sounders better than a ".125 kg'er".

gadgetgirl
gadgetgirl

the EU says we can keep using imperial, too. Isn't that nice of them? GG

seanferd
seanferd

maybe only the title was read without referring to the text. SQL does have some pretty big "holes"... Thinking IT rather than geology/ planetary sciences.

deepsand
deepsand

Of course, since I'm using Excel 2007, the correct result may be a bit more or less.

Absolutely
Absolutely

to learn the value of the Socratic method? Based on my calculations, it will take ... ;)

deepsand
deepsand

"... of anything" does not mean that you are correct. Rather than making an unfounded assertion, you would be better served by simply asking the question as to what methods are available for determining such ages. Or, how about simply researching it on-line, before putting foot in mouth?

mcarr
mcarr

... is the method most commonly used for determining the age of rock, though I suppose it may also be possible to use stratification and baseline against a known event, provided the damage from the meteorite didn't preclude it.

maecuff
maecuff

'holiest of holes' deserved a Pulp Fiction reference, even before reading your post.

neilb
neilb

but I would bet long, long odds that they won't get back to the Moon for quite a while using whatever units they want. The reason that we all sat back and watched rather than participating is because it was a political stunt by JFK and a TOTAL waste of money. Vincent: And you know what they call a... a... a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris? Jules: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese? Vincent: No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn't know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is. Jules: Then what do they call it? Vincent: They call it a Royale with cheese. Jules: A Royale with cheese. What do they call a Big Mac? Vincent: Well, a Big Mac's a Big Mac, but they call it le Big-Mac. Jules: Le Big-Mac. Ha ha ha ha. What do they call a Whopper? Vincent: I dunno, I didn't go into Burger King.

daveo2000
daveo2000

He was the guy that always had the answer but drank too much and was always ill. When travellers came through they would ask for wisdom and would be told to seek "Sick Steve." Unfortunately, most of the travellers got their advice in the pub where things got slurred so most of them thought it was, as you said, Sixty. I heard that from Paul Harvey. It was the rest of the story.

Snak
Snak

5280 (feet in a mile) is 88 X 60 12 (inches in a foot) is 60 / 5 60 is divisible by 20 (shillings in a pound) and 240 is 60 X 4 (pennies in a pound) 360 degrees is 6 X 60 (why there are 12 hours on a clockface) There are probably loads more, but I'm supposed to be working!! 60 is easily divisible by a whole range of numbers, which is why it was chosen. Presumably after some folks had had 60 pints....

daveo2000
daveo2000

The dinos learned inches and feet in school and, what with their small brains, had a breakdown when they were told about 2.54 centimeters in an inch. They just couldn't take it.

daveo2000
daveo2000

I still find the system of weights and measures to be bordering on the absurd. Back in high-school some friends and I decided that it was derived, not by measuring the king's various appendages, but by some folks late one night down in the local pub. After all, how else could they have gotten all those random numbers if not from a dart-board? Is almost sounds like an alternate Fibonacci series: 1, 12, 3, 1760, 5280... They had to have been drunk! btw, Hi GG! :x

Snak
Snak

It was a Sunday, I recall. My long-lasting memory of that day was the little old lady in a railway station, interviwed by the tv journalist out to gather the public's views of decimalisation. She said 'Oh I'm too old for all this. They should've waited till all the old folks had died off......' Classic!

mcarr
mcarr

Isn't it funny how a discussion about how bad the metric system is breaks out in an article about what killed the dinosaurs? It kind of makes you think that there might be some sort of connection, somehow...

gadgetgirl
gadgetgirl

sadly, only got 4/5 on the metric, but got all five on imperial. Now, if they'd added in something on decimalisation on the metric one, I'd have passed, seeing as how they went decimal on my birthday......... as it was, I forgot about micros..... whoops. ;) As for a foot being a foot - never mind that, our (human) weight measurement is far more polite than saying someones weighs "over three hunnerd pounds", innit?! Hometime, gotta go! :x GG

neilb
neilb

There were two tests yesterday on BBC about metric or imperial measurements. I scored five on both and I was dragged up as a scientist so you'd think I'd be in favour but I have to admit to hating metric. My local Sainsbury's are now resigned to me asking for 113g of ham. It's such a bloody stupid measurement for food. You can put an ounce in a sandwich; you can get a gram out of a tooth cavity. A foot is - well - a foot! Sorry... I was just going into a rant, there!

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